Tired of junk fees? Here’s what you can do to protect your wallet from hidden costs

DEDHAM, Mass. — Michael Lo and his brother wanted to take a trip to Cape Cod this summer to celebrate their mother’s birthday. Lo said junk fees prevented them from doing that.

“[The rental property] wasn’t as affordable as it seemed,” Lo said.

Lo said after adding in a service fee, processing fee, and cleaning fee, a room advertised for $200 a night actually turned out to be closer to $350.

“It just seems deceptive,” Lo said. “My brother and I wanted to do something real nice. That just wasn’t possible at the end of it.”

The Federal Trade Commission says junk fees can hit your wallet in different ways.

  • They can be hidden without your consent at the end of a purchase
  • A company can make you think optional upgrades or services are mandatory
  • You can be charged for products or services with little or no value

Now lawmakers and regulators are cracking down.

“We want to make sure consumers aren’t being taken unfair advantage of,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, the junior Democrat from Washington. Cantwell introduced a bill last month to eliminate hidden ticket fees for concerts and sporting events.

The Government Accountability Office says surprise fees can contribute anywhere from 21 to 58 percent of the total cost of tickets. Cantwell said, “The price they say should be the price you pay.”

“When we buy tickets we want to know what the price is and we should be able to find out that information and understand what the hidden fees are all about,” Cantwell said.

The Biden Administration called for a “Junk Fee Prevention Act” to eliminate unfair and expensive fees including late credit card payments and overdraft bank penalties, as well as enforcing more transparency when it comes to internet cable bills and airline tickets.

“Yes, we need some action to protect consumers,” said MASSPIRG Legislative Director Deirdre Cummings. “There’s a perversity to it. Some people will charge a convenience fee to pay electronically. Now, this is absurd. It’s cheaper for them to get the money electronically.”

Cummings and U.S. PIRG have a list of ways consumers can protect themselves from junk fees:

  • Read everything before you pay, sign, initial or agree.
  • Don’t sign or agree to anything that you didn’t actually read.
  • If there’s something you don’t understand, ask what the fee is for. Getting a clarification in writing (or via email) is better.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away or from the transaction if you don’t like the extra fees.
  • Pay by credit card. Never by debit card. Undisclosed fees are easier to dispute with a credit card. And debit cards expose your whole checking account to all kinds of additional problems.
  • Note the names of anyone you talk with. Put a note in your calendar or send yourself an email of the day and time of day when you talked with the person. It helps you fight a fee if you can document that you talked with this person on this day and were told this.
  • Keep copies of all receipts, agreements, emails, texts.
  • If you’re hit with an undisclosed or misleading fee, complain to the company and file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office of consumer protection or the FTC.

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